FORT MYERS, Fla. – After staging a three-run comeback in the ninth to force extra-innings, the FGCU baseball team suffered a heartbreaking 8-6 loss in 10 innings to Central Michigan on the first day of the 2011 college baseball season on Friday night at Swanson Stadium.
Trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the ninth, senior Stephen Wickens (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary), freshman Sean Dwyer (Leesburg, Fla./Tavares HS) and senior Zach Maxfield (North Port, Fla./North Port HS/Pasco-Hernando CC) all delivered two-out RBI singles to spark the three-run comeback that forced the 10th inning.
In the 10th, junior Jacob Barnes (St. Petersburg, Fla./St. Petersburg HS) became the seventh pitcher to take the mound for the Eagles. After getting two outs with a runner on second, the Chippewas brought home the eventual game-winning run on single and added an insurance run on a double down the right field line.
After recording the final out in the ninth, CMU’s Jon Weaver finished off the Eagles in the 10th and earned the win.
The loss was the Eagles’ first-ever home opening (8-1) defeat and their first season opening loss since entering Division I in 2008.
The top four hitters in the FGCU lineup supplied eight of the team’s nine hits, going a combined 8-of-19 with five runs scored and six RBI. Wickens led the charge from the leadoff spot with a 3-for-6 night with three runs scored. Batting cleanup, Maxfield drove in three runs on two hits, highlighted by a two-run double in the sixth inning that extended his hit streak to 15 games dating back to last year. Dwyer was retired in his first three collegiate at-bats before delivering a pair of clutch two-out RBI singles in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
A-Sun Preseason Pitcher of the Year Richie Erath (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS) got the start on the mound, going 4.2 innings before being relieved in the fifth after giving up four runs. Erath struck out four and surrendered six hits.
Of the six pitchers that came out of the pen, freshman Harrison Cooney (Vero Beach, Fla./Vero Beach HS), a 40th round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the only one to toss a scoreless inning. In all, the bullpen issued eight walks over 5.1 innings.
The defending MAC regular season champs and the preseason favorite in the West Division, CMU jumped out a sizeable lead in the fifth with four runs charged to Erath, who began the game by retiring the first seven batters he faced.
The Eagles finally got to CMU starter Trent Howard in the bottom of the sixth when Wickens broke up the no-hitter with a single through the leftside followed by a walk to Mikel Alvarez (West Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Central HS). Faced with his first jam of the game, Howard recorded a strikeout before giving up a two-run double to right center field by Maxfield on his 104th pitch of the game that made it 4-2. Sophomore southpaw Dietrich Enns came into the game for Howard and got out of the jam with two straight outs.
After plating another run in the top of the seventh to make it a 5-2 deficit, Enns retired the Eagles in order in their half of the seventh.
Senior Craig Crumbley (Winter Haven, Fla./Lake Region HS) kept the Chippewas off the board in the top eight, giving way to the top of the FGCU lineup, who got to Enns, the reigning MAC Freshman of the Year. Wickens, again, led off with a single followed by another single from Alvarez. For the third time in the game, Dwyer came to the plate with runners on, this time, delivering an RBI single to score Wickens from second base and make it 5-3.
Enns worked his way out of trouble in the eighth, but ran into major fireworks in the ninth during the comeback. Prior to the Eagles’ three-run ninth, the Chippewas plated another run in the top half of the inning, which was enough to keep the Eagles from winning the game in nine innings.
Despite playing a nearly four hour and 30-minute season opener, the two teams will take the field at Swanson Stadium again on Saturday for a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. The series will conclude on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.